“The dead are the past and we cannot escape the past. Without the past there will be no future.”
Take a look at the cover for Where the Dead Fear to Tread by M.R. Gott (sequel forthcoming) and you pretty much know what to expect. It looks like it could be an action movie poster, right? Unfortunately, that’s what the book most resembles — a movie. Maybe the author is in the wrong business because as a popcorn movie, this story might work. It doesn’t as a novel.
Where the Dead is about an antihero who punishes child abusers and tangles with ghosts, vampires, and werewolves. That might sound like a sensible, collected premise, but that’s not how the book reads. It wants to be both a detective story and supernatural fiction, and the result is a mangled hybrid between the two. There’s no consistency to its world — you have no idea what to expect next not because the plot is fascinating and unpredictable but because it feels like Gott is making it up as he goes along.
A lot of it is pretty cheesy. I can’t take seriously an eyeless vampire playing Chopin or a female cop running around naked with dual pistols in her hands — or worse, a ghost chanting “bare ass escape.” The silliness of it conflicts with the larger image the book projects about its characters, who are all tough, badass, and angry as hell. Sometimes all the dialogue consists of are accusatory remarks and swearing (“bitch” appears multiple times on the same page, for instance). It’s hard to get a feel for any real depth when you imagine all the characters looking like the guy on the cover: serious face, smoking gun, leather trenchcoat, clever comeback on the tongue. What’s even weirder is that some of these defensive/offensive quips involve negative comparisons to children: “Don’t threaten me like some fucking child” is an odd choice of words when the main investigation that everyone’s wrapped up in involves a child’s disappearance and protection of the innocent.
Gott’s book is quite vulgar at times, but that isn’t an asset. Those moments of bitter dialogue are too forced. His real strength lies in his descriptions of his creatures, particularly the maggot-infested cemetery Caretaker and his minions. The rest is a bunch of long action scenes strung together. They’re incredibly boring to read and wouldn’t be half as bad if they were slimmed down and spaced apart between nice chunks of meaningful character development, which there’s much too little of.
I found most of these characters hard to believe or care about. The “serial killer” and antihero — one of the protagonists of the book, William Chandler — is supposed to be dangerous and capable, but he beats himself up over not being able to save a baby bird, which is just about the sappiest and most ridiculous plot point ever. Granted, it was less embarrassing once I learned his reasons (he was unable to save someone close to him who died in a similar manner), but that wasn’t revealed until much later in the book. By that time, I had already stopped being interested in the character.
It’s a common movie trope to glamorize characters who are tough and angry and “mysterious,” but underneath the leather, there’s not much substance. That’s the mistake that puts Where the Dead in the ground.
Bottom line: A one-note read that would be better as a bad movie.
What I liked: Some of the monster descriptions were pretty disgusting.
What I wasn’t expecting: BARE ASS ESCAPE!
This book was provided by the author and publisher for honest review.